Boston fragments

I found this post in my Drafts box. I never quite got round to finishing it and then it wasnt quite the right time to post it, so here it is unfinished

Friday was a solemn day.

Runners made their way to Boylston Street.

With a few days until race day it was the runners from 2013 who came first, proudly displaying 2013 on the blue and yellow jackets.   There was little noise as they sought out first the finish line and then both of the small memorials which marked the sites of the bombs. Fading strands of blue and yellow tied to a tree.  A 2013 finishers medal tied to a piece of wire.  Little bunches of flowers. The following day they were joined by a pair of running shoes. These were not formal grand gestures but very personal tokens placed by individuals.

IMG_0460The finish line of the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street is flanked by temporary grandstands.  To make your way to the race Expo you need to walk through a  passage behind them which is almost like walking through a church. The silence under the stands amplified the raw emotion on the street.  Waves of emotion were causing me to swallow hard and was relieved to see I was not alone as I glanced to see tears streaming down Helen’s face.

Quietly we walked to the Forum restaurant where Helen had stood for 6 hours until just before the bomb exploded there last year.

We were back.

We had made a promise to come back to Boston to play a part in standing up for the small sweaty corner of humanity that is the running community, and now we were standing on Boylston Street.
We had lunch in the Forum and chatted to a couple seated next to us who were not runners. They had been in the Forum last year when the bomb exploded and blew the windows in. They had come back from Kansas City to be in the same place and intended to watch the race from the Forum.

Throughout Friday the runners returned and as they returned there were many tears on Boylston Street but there was a real sense or determination to return and put things right.  It was important not just to the runners but to the city.  People welcomed the runners back with a sense of relief almost as if they were worried they might not come. Not just the city as an institution but the ordinary people: the airport security guard who looked you up and down, saw the 2013 and nodded and winked. The taxi driver who was eager to tell us that we can’t let them win.

And then there were the daffodils. Wrapped in Boston blue ribbons, bright yellow daffodils lined the street.wpid-img_40652194179078.jpeg

Outside the church by the finish line, volunteers were handing out Boston scarves. Hand-knitted in their thousands throughout the USA  I received one made by Susan from the tiny town of Mt Desert in Maine.


Race day arrived, the yellow school buses headed for Hopkinton. As we arrived through the back streets of this most American town with its wooden houses and white picket fences, two old ladies, sat on a white painted porch, held up a banner saying  “Welcome Back”.  A little girl wrapped in her dressing gown, stood at the end of her driveway and waved a Stars and Stripes at the returning runners. It was only 7am.

Finally, high on emotion, a race was run.  Crowds cheered as never before in a heady mix of support and defiance.  Cheers, tears, kisses and fist pumps punctuated 26.2 miles of the very best in the human spirit. Boston was Strong, the runners came back.  Those with unfinished business turned Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston and finished the race.

IMG_0391 IMG_0390 066

A few days later, and 4000 miles to the west,  I was boarding the ferry to Alcatraz, proudly sporting my Boston Finsher’s shirt,  when I was approached by an older lady who shook my hand and in a broad Boston drawl said “Thank You”


Tears on Boylston

There were tears on Boylston
on the day the runners came back.
Wrapped in scarves of Boston blue,
carrying the hopes of strangers.
The blue and yellow jackets of '13
the first ones to arrive
In a race for restitution
For their numbers to be counted
they stood in contemplation
At the finish line rebuilt.
Boston Strong, they walked in quiet tribute
Along the street that was hurt

And the hopeful yellow daffodils,
wrapped in Boston blue,
Lined the street like supporters
Cheering those who passed.
The daffodils made me cry.

Quit while you are ahead

The second half of last year saw me injured with an achilles injury which took nearly 6 months to get better.  Since January my achilles has been behaving, though it still niggles,  but I have also been struck down with plantar fasciatis, a sore ankle caused by bruised cartilege, a long running sinus infection, and a really busy work schedule.

Foremost in my mind has been my appointment in Hopkinton on Monday April 21st and the need to get there in one piece.

Boston ’13 eyeing up the finish line

Now normally when I train, I am  of the blood,  sweat and snotters school of training.  No finesse but lots of effort.

This year, with so many ailments I have had to adopt a painfully cautious approach to training.  I have tried to follow the 10% rule, upping my mileage slowly. I have been disciplined in my long runs, turning back early in some of the long group runs on the West Highland Way when it would have been easier just to slog them out with my chums who were all running longer. Turning back when you are competitive is really hard. I even dropped out of the D33 race at 25 miles because my foot just wasn’t right. My first ever DNF  and those who know me will appreciate how painful that is.

I have done next to no speed work. My usual set of Yasso 800’s has slipped off my plan. Even tempo runs have been done at about 80%.  I started training without a base and whereas last year I was running 200-250 miles per month this year I have been in the region of 175-190.  This time last year I raced a pretty speedy half marathon and got a new PB. This year I haven’t raced at all.  Not even a parkrun.

Boston ’14 training miles


Boston ’13 training miles


I am  undertrained. I have no speed.  I feel like I am about 4-6 weeks away from full fitness, so having been cautious all year, I am going to have to keep the caution going and run the race with my head and not with my heart which is what usually gets me into trouble anyway.

My mantra throughout this whole training programme has been to quit while I’m ahead.

So where does that leave me?

First off it means that barring accidents I am uninjured and ready to go run Boston. Success!

My goal for race day? To run safely and sensibly for 20 miles and get over heartbreak hill with 6 miles to go and be feeling strong.  If I can do that then I should be in with a chance of beating last year’s time. The trick will be to resist the temptation to push on and to remember where I am now, not where I used to be and tailor my ambitions accordingly.

Despite being tedious at times, I have plodded through the last 16 weeks doing what had to be done, to be safe rather than sorry. It has been frustrating and it hasn’t been enjoyable, but it has been successful and I will be on the start line with a semblance of fitnes

It is now taper time, and I will be getting wrapped in cotton wool because at the moment I am just about ahead, so definitely time to quit until race day.



Boston Marathon 15th April 2013

547495_10151607861934131_2072290622_nIt is difficult to know where to begin to describe this year’s Boston marathon. I have tried to start writing this post several times and never quite managed to find the words.

It has been a week of powerful, powerful emotions. Arriving in Boston to run the marathon and getting caught up in the excitement which grips the City; meeting some truly inspirational people; running the race itself and realising you are part of the greatest race on earth; not performing as well as I wanted to and dealing with the depths of personal disappointment; crossing the line and getting that Boston medal round my neck; the bombings and all the fear, hurt, anger, sorrow they brought; the aftermath and the strong sense of dignity and community which followed.
With all of the sadness and confusion associated with the bombing it is easy to forget all of their good things which happened.

Marathon runners are sometimes thought of as selfish. It is an individual sport. It involves long hours of solitary activity. Yet marathon runners are part of something bigger. To be a marathon runner, you need the other competitors, you need the volunteers, the organisers and the spectators to share it with.  Running 26.2 miles doesn’t make you a marathon runner. You become a marathon runner when you stand on the start line with the intention of covering the distance in the very best time you can manage, and by doing so give the spectators someone to cheer for, your fellow competitors someone to race and share the road with, and having laid yourself bare you give that volunteer at the end a feeling of joy when they put that medal round your neck because they know you have earned it and they know that their hours of standing in the cold was worth it because you, the runner, gave them something to reward.

As many have said before, the marathon is almost the perfect distance. You cannot race a marathon on training or ability alone. Those two attributes get you through the first twenty miles. For the last six, you need heart.  In a marathon, you see heart. lots of it. A massive sweating, seething stream of heart. Running a marathon starts with a common desire for every single runner, the single idea that you can be better than you are. It is from this single idea that the spirit of the marathon flows. It is this spirit which the people of Boston recognise and which they have celebrated for 117 years.  It is the same spirit which makes Boston Strong. Boston doesn’t mess about.  Whether it is transporting 27000 runners to a start line 26 miles away by closing down all the roads and giving the phalanx of yellow school buses, the biggest, most heart pumping police escort you will see, or shutting down an entire city without hesitation to hunt for those who through their heinous crimes have offered insult and injury to their own. Boston does it right.

The Boston marathon is everything you imagine it will be and more.  From the famous start at Hopkinton, through the towns along the route, through Heartbreak Hill, the Citgo sign, Fenway Park, Boston College and the Wellesley Girls, the crowds grew and grew. It wasn’t just the number of people along the whole length of the course. These weren’t spectators, these were supporters. Supporters who screamed their heads off, waved funny placards which said stuff like “that isn’t sweat – it is awesome leaking out”. These were supporters who cheered as much for John Munro, age 49, still overweight and turning into a lobster through sunburn, as they did for the famous ultrarunner Dean Karnazes with his white teeth, Californian tan and 0% body fat who ran beside or near me for a large portion of the race. Those were the supporters who screamed so loudly at Wellesley College that you could hear them half a mile before you saw them and who yelled and waved each runner up Heartbreak Hill and celebrated like lottery winners every runner who kept going  and made it over the top without stopping.

I didnt have the run I hoped for. I got cramp a few times, I threw up, I was over heating and couldnt keep my heart rate low.  I crossed the line, close to tears from frustration and pain, in 3:30:22, 15 minutes slower than my target, despite the best training of my life and having had no alcohol for nine weeks. I ran so hard, but it just wasn’t happening, yet over the second half of the course as my race fell apart, I had to keep trying because the crowds just grew and grew and kept urging me on. After collecting my medal I ended up in the medical tent. Nothing serious, just pushed a wee bit too hard. I was still in the medical tent when the bombs went off.

Two loud bangs. No echo or reverberation.  Bang . Silence. Bang. Silence. In the windowless environs of the large white tent there was no idea initially what had happened.  Word filtered through of an explosion, and even then the initial assumption was of an accident.  Then came the call to free up the beds.  I was well enough to walk so got myself discharged and then made the long cold slow difficult  walk against the flow of confused disoriented runners and spectators until I finally met up with Helen. It wasn’t until much later that we found out just how close we had both been to the explosions. There were a number of chance circumstances which kept us from fulfilling our plans that afternoon or we would have been much closer still.

What happened in the medical tent is someone else’s story, but I have no doubt, having seen the setup first hand that the way the medical facilities were set up probably saved many lives. It is ironic, but if you are going to be a bomb victim, then near the finish of a marathon with all of its stewards, police, military, paramedics, doctors and nurses is probably just about the best place for it to happen. Near the finish line of a marathon in a City with some of the best surgical hospitals in the world improves your chances further. The response by individuals was extraordinary. The response by the City and its Citizens was immense. It was quiet, determined, resolute and dignified.

Many thousands of people had a great Boston experience on Monday.  They ran the race of their lives cheerd on by massive support. The bombs visited terrible tragedies on families and individuals. Yet even in the aftermath of the tragedies,  the people of Boston paid great kindnesses to the runners, taking them into their homes, feeding them, keeping them warm.  As the day wore on, the runners re-emerged onto the streets. Not the usual raucous post race celebration, but just quietly, confused, tentatively. Slowly more and more Blue and Yellow appeared. In the bars and restaurants the runners wore their medals, not in triumph, but in tribute. Quiet nods, handshakes, hugs, gently enquiring “did you finish?”.  And the locals joined in, in spite of everything still offering congratulations and heartfelt apologies that this should have happened to the runners in their city.

I still have a sense of disbelief and outrage that this should have happened. As a runner, I am even more dismayed that the bombers targeted the supporters.  In some ways, there might be some sense to targeting those actually running the race, those selfish runners, but not the supporters who stand and scream and cheer complete strangers and loved ones alike, just because they want to celebrate the fulfilment of that dream to be better than we are. They are the innocent, generous, giving participants in the marathon.

It finally struck me this morning as I gazed out the plane window onto the snow covered peaks of the Scottish Highlands why this upset me so much. Because I finished only a short time before the bombs went off, there is a high probability that all of those people who ended up in hospital had cheered and clapped for me as I ran down Boylston Street to the famous blue and yellow finish line.

While leaving Boston airport last night I had a touching conversation with an airport security guard. An older man with sad eyes. We spoke quietly and he asked if I would come back. I said that I would be back. Good, he said. Lots of runners are saying that.

Be Fearless. Apt words from Kathrine Switzer
Be Fearless. Apt words from Kathrine Switzer

I didn’t run the race I wanted, which means that I didnt re-qualify for Boston. And I am glad, because I want to have to requalify and I want to do it the hard way, to have to earn the right. I will sweat blood to make sure I get another qualifying time and get back to Boston, and when I do, and I charge over the top of Heartbreak Hill and race all the way to Boylston, I will Be Fearless  and by God am I going to give those supporters something to cheer about, because they deserve that much.

Thank you Boston.